Creating an Approval Process for Apps, Extensions, Websites, and Other Digital Resources - Verizon Innovative Learning Schools

Creating an Approval Process for Apps, Extensions, Websites, and Other Digital Resources

Creating an Approval Process for Apps, Extensions, Websites, and Other Digital Resources

Have you been wondering where to start when creating a district process for selecting apps or tools? Prior to rollout, review or build a process that determines which tools will be approved based upon the value they bring to learning and if they’re safe for students to use. It is also important to set clear expectations with teachers regarding what the vetting process looks like and the amount of time it will take for a tool to be reviewed and approved by the district. As teachers wait for new apps or very niche tools to be considered, direct them to an existing library of evergreen, pre-vetted tools that can be used across multiple subjects and grades. Creativity tools are always good suggestions, as they can assist students in extending their ideas and thoughts across any curricular area. Most school districts have existing processes or policies around media resource selection, so starting with procedures that are already established and approved is a great first step.

While setting up or revising your review process for apps, extensions, and websites, consider the following:

  • Purposeful tech integration – Here are some considerations to ensure there is a learning purpose behind the media resource adoption.
    • How well does the app allow students to express themselves creatively? How many ways can students use it? Does it allow them to think creatively in their use of it?
    • How well does the app support student collaboration? We learn from teachers, but also from learners to our left and right. Collaboration is a key consideration.
    • How well does the app extend the learner experience? Why do I need to know this? How does it allow students to extend to what’s happening in their lives, in current events?
    • How well does the app create authentic connections to content? Does it allow them to safely connect with someone in the field? Does it allow them to simulate those experiences? Does it give them exposure to industry-specific vocabulary or skills?
    • How well does the digital resource positively impact student motivation and engagement? Do students want to use the app? How much excitement does it generate?
    • How well does the app enhance the teacher’s ability to give timely feedback? Does the app let students know that they’ve learned something while in the midst of learning it?
  • Accessibility
    • Does the app alienate any student group? Does every student have an equal opportunity to learn by using this tool?
    • Does the app require an internet connection? Might this app create inequities in use and expectations if not all students have reliable internet access out of school?
    • In what ways does the app give students the ability to learn at their own pace?
    • Are there built-in supports for students with differing abilities and English language learners? Does this app support them, or does it alienate them?
  • Appropriateness – Which grade levels and content areas would most benefit from the app? Will it only benefit one grade, subject, or concept within it? Or does it have a bigger impact?
    • Provide opportunities for teachers to vet the resources – Classroom practitioners should have an opportunity to explore the digital resource thoroughly before using it with students. Gather a small group of teachers across grades and content areas to explore the digital resource’s functionality. If they think it is a worthwhile resource, move to the approval process. By carefully vetting digital resources through the educational lens you prevent the adoption of resources that will not be used in the classroom.
    • Design digital resource use cases – Teachers can create sample ways of leveraging the digital resource specific to their grade or content areas and then share it within their grade levels or curricular disciplines.
    • Implement a classroom pilot – Test the digital resources in the hands of students in a classroom setting. Does the resource assist students in helping them meet their learning targets?
    • Gather student feedback – Give your student tech team members an opportunity to give feedback on the functionality of the digital resource. What works for them? What doesn’t?
  • Protect your students’ data privacy – How does the digital resource store, manage, and protect user data? There is no anti-virus software that will work better than a well-informed teacher and school district.
    • Know your district’s policies around student privacy. Knowing what mechanisms your district has in place and its stance around student data privacy is your first and best line of defense.
    • If you can’t find a privacy policy for the digital resource you want to use, LEAVE. All credible educational web resources should have a privacy policy. The privacy policy should refer to current federal regulations like FERPA, COPPA, CIPA, SOPIPA compliance.
      • How do they define “data?”
      • How do they collect/store data?
      • How do they use the data they collect?
      • Is user data made available to users/schools?
    • When in doubt, ask an expert. Colleagues and district officials like your school district’s legal counsel can answer most of your questions around student privacy. Emailing the app’s development team is also an effective way to answer questions.
  • Value – Do your answers to the questions above justify the digital resource’s cost?
    • Scaling paywalls – If functionally + accessibility + appropriateness + security ≱ cost, don’t purchase.
    • Freemium may be enough – Many apps offer free versions that lack their paid functions. Vet these versions first to determine if the paid functions are necessary.
    • Look for app promotions – Bundles, trial periods, site licenses, betas, etc. Remember that licensing and clickwrap agreements are usually governed at the district level, and classroom practitioners should not be committing their school district to anything without express permission of the district.
    • Seek digital resource alternatives and mash-ups – If there’s an app for that, there’s probably an alternative digital resource as well.
    • Don’t force apps – If an app is not fitting your needs, do not force it. Apps and the features they offer evolve over time.

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